Congress Passes Two-Year Budget Deal Staving Off Cuts to People with Disabilities

The Senate voted 64-35 to pass a two year budget deal, called the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, in the wee hours of Friday morning to send the deal to President Obama’s desk for his signature. The House passed the bill earlier this week. The deal included a number of provisions that are good for the country and for people with disabilities. The provisions in the bill include:

  • Debt Limit: The deal suspends the limit on borrowing (often referred to as the debt ceiling) until March of 2017. The government’s authority to borrow was going to run out on Tuesday, November 3rd unless Congress acted, which would have caused a default on our debt and risked the credit rating of the United States.
  • Prevent Harmful Cuts to Discretionary Programs: The deal sets overall spending limits for the next two federal fiscal years (through October 2017) and stops additional cuts to discretionary programs. It set overall spending limits that are $80 billion higher over the next two years than would have occurred if this deal had not been reached. Spending was going to be cut due to something called sequestration enacted in a budget deal in 2011. Sequestration requires that automatic, indiscriminate, across the board cuts be made in domestic discretionary spending, including many of the programs that support people with disabilities to live and work independently. The budget deal passed by Congress eliminates about 90% of those across the board cuts in 2016 and about 60% in 2017 and protects funding for programs for people with disabilities as a result.
  • Social Security Disability Insurance: The act prevents a 19% benefit cut to people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits projected to occur in 2016 by increasing the share of the payroll taxes people pay going into the disability insurance trust fund. Full benefits can now be paid through 2022. The deal also restored the Social Security Administration’s authority to conduct demonstration projects in the SSDI program and required it to conduct additional demonstrations regarding creating a benefit offset which would reduce a beneficiary’s benefit by $1 for every $2 earned over a certain earnings threshold. It also increased penalties for fraud. It helped fund these changes by eliminating something known as the single decision maker pilot.

This deal provides some stability to the federal budget process over the next few years and removes the threat of cuts hanging over the heads of people with disabilities that rely on federal programs to support their independence, including SSDI beneficiaries. Although the deal is far from perfect, it will hopefully prevent Congress from creating artificial crises to try to hold hostage funding for programs that are vital to people with disabilities to get unrelated policy goals accomplished, at least until March of 2017.

For more information on the deal, a section by section summary is available at:

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